Attachment Theory Applied to Social Media Interactions

Mathias Sager
5 min readFeb 9, 2019



  • Ubiquitous social media
  • Attachment style predicts social media use
  • Social media’s role in dating relationships & Social media addiction
  • Self-expression and branding in social media
  • Violent content and cyberbullying
  • Conclusion: Risks & opportunities

Ubiquitous social media

Social media like Facebook have shaped how people are managing social relationships [1]. For example, 86% of adults under thirty are using social media on a regular basis [2], which makes clear how pervasive these digital platforms have become.

Attachment style predicts social media use

There is the critique that social media might foster superficial relationships [3]. From the other side around, studies show that the degree to which knowledge is shared online depends on an individual’s online attachment, commitment for online relationships, and altruism [4]. It was found that attachment style influences online social relationships in correspondence with offline situations. According to attachment theory, attachment preferences result from continuous interactions leading to patterns of behavior towards a child’s caregiver and later on towards other people [17]. Individuals who feel secure in relationships are predictably likely to be socially well connected on social media [5].

Social media’s role in dating relationships & Social media addiction

Insecure attachment negatively impacts romantic partnerships. Interestingly though, control and ‘spying’ through social media can reassure a partner of an avoidant attachment style person in being cherished, the social media information gathering and monitoring being interpreted as interest and care and therefore taken as compensation for the generally negatively perceived avoidant attachment style [6]. In the dating stage of a relationship, Electronic Intrusion (EI), e.g., unannounced surveillance and monitoring of online activities, might be at the same time the result of and reinforce attachment anxiety and therefore constitute a problematic online dating behavior [7]. Attachment anxiety is also found to be associated with social media addiction when controlled for the stronger effect of the fear of missing something out [8].

Self-expression and branding in social media

High social media use can have positive effects on attachment, as to an institution like a college, which can positively influence one’s well-being [2]. Social media has proven to provide an effective means for favorable and accurate self-presentations that is important for one’s positive socialization and psychological functioning [9]. The understanding of people’s attachment styles from their social media use provides opportunities to, for example, marketing-related targeting of potential customers and supporters to predict and strategically influence their attachment to brands, places, products, and services [10]. Marketers can increase attachment to their social media content by increasing source credibility and reputation, e.g., based on positive user reviews [11].

Violent content & cyberbullying

Prosocial TV enhances children’s social and emotional skills for healthy relationships [12], but, on the other side, television and video games with violent content might also develop aggressive behavior [13]. The same might be true for social media content. Also, social media addiction tends to lead to decreased mindfulness [1]. Furthermore, the risk for socially and emotionally problematic adolescents to be traditionally and cyberbullied at the same time increases, whereas the combination of both bullying forms accumulates more harm for the teens concerned [14].

Conclusion: Risks & opportunities

In conclusion, although social media entails some risks of negatively impacting social relationships, it also offers opportunities from an attachment theory perspective by supporting the formation of social relationships that facilitate positive child-parent and peer-to-peer attachments [15]. Assessing social and emotional learning (SEL) values in Human Computer Interactions (HCI) therefore is utterly important in today’s highly digitally impacted societies [16].

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Mathias Sager

Awareness Intelligence research and application since 1975. It’s humantime., Thanks and all the best!